Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fall Guy

[It has come to my attention, via my Ever-Faithful Bloglodytes, that users of Internet Explorer (IE) may encounter problems in viewing Heroes In My Closet. Whether this is due to recent changes in Blogger or IE is unknown. Regardless, to enjoy the full Heroes In My Closet experience, open using another browser (Firefox is a freely downloadable and endorsed by Your Nattering Narrator). I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Now, without further ado...]

 “Yeah, I’m gonna bungee jump... What’s it to you?!” 

Spider-Man bungee jumping makes about as much sense as Fred Astaire line-dancing. But then again, there’s little sense in everyone’s favorite Webhead riding the hood of a racecar or using an elevator (see “Web Stock” and “I Slept with Stan Lee,” respectively). It’s just that when you have a character whose preferred mode of travel is swinging from a strand of homemade webbing, the idea of him plummeting with an industrial strength elastic band tied to his ankles seems a bit… well… anti-climactic.

But of course, I speak from a position of being Spider-Man. In a world where the beloved Web-Slinger doesn’t exist, where the average Joe has no hope of actually witnessing the red-and-blue idol of millions spanning the skyscrapers of the Big Apple at the end of a silk thread, then being privy to a bungee-jumping man in a Spider-Man suit may be the next best thing. In the case of my performing the stunt as the Wondrous Webster, I was more of a puppet on a string. I had little, if any, say in the matter. And quite frankly, I was scared shitless, which may not sound surprising until you learn that I’d jumped out of a plane less than ten years prior!

 Spider-Man skydiving?! Crazy? Not so much, as evinced by this panel from Amazing Spider-Man #1, penciled by Steve Ditko 

Toward the end of my senior year at Boston University, my best friend Chris and I made a pact to go skydiving. Whence the idea came remains hidden in the deepest recesses of my memory. Neither one of us was a daredevil or extreme sports enthusiast—Chris more so than I by far. My greatest life-changing experience since entering college was quitting the use of the hatchway for peeing in my cotton undies for the more convenient and sensible maneuver of simply pulling down the waistband! This revelation came via an otherwise forgettable two-man improv piece by my room- and classmate, David, during sophomore year. At one point in the acting exercise, David, held up a pair of the ubiquitous briefs—often sold in three-packs at chain stores, such as Bradlees (now out of business) and Sears, and I would guess today at the likes of Target and Walmart—poked his finger through the penis trapdoor and asked the audience, “Does anyone actually use this?”

Fortunately, I stopped my hand before it was fully raised and hunkered in ignominy, questioning my existence. How else does a guy pee?! Isn’t that why the hole is there?! Later I confronted my roommate in the privacy of our 10' by 15' prison cell… uh, I mean dorm room. I appreciated his not reporting me to the authorities, though he couldn’t suppress a look of incredulity at my questioning his ability to pee whilst cotton-undie–clad without employing the manufacturer’s penis portal. Finally, he blurted in exasperation, “Just pull down the waistband!” My next trip to the urinal I did just that, albeit with more than a smidgen of skepticism…

Cue angel chorus. 

It was shockingly simple. Using the manhood manhole was like trying to coax a cat out of a tree. I felt like such a fool… All that time wasted… sigh…

The idea to jump out of a plane may have come from a New School catalog. Unsure whether these exist throughout the U.S. or only in larger metropolitan areas, but they can be found in New York City as well. The New School catalog is a magazine-size listing of learning opportunities—for lack of a better way of explaining the catalog’s kaleidoscope of offerings—available in the city. On average, the teachings are of the more esoteric variety, like theoretical canoeing or pet psychology, but there were also adventures such as white water–rafting and skydiving. The catalogs are free—though the courses therein are not—and freely distributed via boxes similar to newspaper-vending machines.

As I dredge the murky depths of this story, a clearer vision of Chris excitedly bringing my attention to the sky diving class in the New School’s pages manifests. An outfit in southern Maine, called Skydive Lebanon, offered the course, which included training and one static-line jump, for $156. The fee wasn’t cheap for a graduating college student in the era shortly following Orville and Wilbur’s historic flight at Kitty Hawk, but soon Chris had my promise to join him in the endeavor after graduation before we began our lives in the real world as adults.

Prices circa 1986
 
Graduation came and went. Chris went back to his hometown of Armonk, NY, where he prepared to move to the city. Determined to work throughout the summer to raise enough cash with which to pursue my acting career in the Big Apple in the fall, I moved in with mom, who’d permanently relocated to our summerhouse in Cape Ann, MA. But I never strayed from my pact with Chris. Unfortunately, the distance between us was unfeasible for organizing the promised skydiving trip, and I soon realized it would never be… at least not with Chris. So I booked a date.

A few days later I received confirmation in the mail, along with the outfit’s typewritten handout, a far-from-professional, double-sided flyer, which featured crude drawings and handmade directions. At the time, I didn’t think much about the quality of the flyer, that it might be indicative of Skydive Lebanon service or expertise… or lack thereof. Perhaps, since New School featured them among their courses, I felt comfortable with the company. Or maybe, my hard-on to jump from a plane blinded me to what may have been a fly-by-night operation. You’d think I’d be a little more concerned. It’s not like I was entrusting my life to someone teaching me the ins and outs of needlework!

 With its top-notch typesetting, stunning graphics and cartographer’s map, the Skydive Lebanon flyer exuded professionalism and confidence 

My parents were not happy, and their response had nothing to do with the shabby-looking handout, which I wisely kept to myself. They were just being parents. My mother, whose overly dramatic reactions are legendary, was nearly in tears. The day she learned that I occasionally smoked marijuana, her hysterical diatribe culminated with, “I don’t want you ending up like Judy Garland!” Huh?! When I confessed my plans to jump from a plane, she all but ordered a casket for me. My father, who served in the army during the Korean War, was in complete denial. “What the hell would you want to do that for?” he spat with complete disdain, like I’d committed some heinous act. He cut me off mid-reply, telling me he didn’t want to hear anything about my escapade until after I’d landed. Their reactions merely strengthened my resolve.

 Stop recreational marijuana. Don’t let this happen to you! 

The reactions of friends ranged from similar to awe. You’d think my decision to trade six years in one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country for a degree in acting would have prepared them to some degree for my unorthodox approach to life. Some were envious; oddly, many of the call-me-crazies, defended their positions with “I’m afraid of heights.” I found this strange, because at 10,000 feet, there is no height; that is to say, there is no frame of reference with which one’s mind can compare in order to experience that type of fear, as opposed to when one stands atop a ladder or chair, where the distance is accessible to the senses and the crash zone is clearly visible.

Jumping out of an airplane—crazy? Not in the least. Now, skiing? You have to be insane to propel yourself down a tree-dotted mountainside with nothing but an insulated bodysuit. Not to mention the cost. After the skis, poles, boots, gloves, goggles, various other winter wear—which, granted may be rented, but that still isn’t free—there are travel expenses and the lift ticket. If you are a beginner, you’ll need instructions.

More importantly, schussing takes skill. You could devote hours of practice and point to one run down the bunny slope without falling as your greatest achievement. Now, skydiving. All you need is a heartbeat; you don’t even need legs. Anyone can fall—gravity doesn’t discriminate. A sporty thrill with little instruction, relatively little economic outlay and no skill required? I’m there!

I understand skiing is an internationally popular pastime/sport, the fans of which find thrilling and fun. I wouldn’t be poo-pooing it, if those skiing aficionados with whom I spoke of my wish to jump from a plane hadn’t disparaged me my choice of adventure. To each his own. One man’s crazy is another’s idea of fun.

Overall—even outside the aforementioned Jean-Claude Killys—I received little support. Chris, the rare enthusiast to my cause, was too distant to make more than a faint impact.

No matter.

On Friday, July 18, 1986, I left home for my date with destiny. It was a clear summer day free of haze and humidity. My jump was scheduled for 5 P.M., which by the standards of early summer would leave a few hours until dusk. It should be noted: my mom was not home upon my departure, even though she was well aware of where I was going. She was in denial, which would prove a common refrain whenever I or one of my sisters did anything with which she disapproved. A few weeks later when I left for New York to pursue my acting dream, she couldn’t be bothered to tear herself away from washing dishes to say good-bye as I drove away in the U-Haul truck. I don’t think she ever truly relinquished the thought that I would be returning home at some point.

Lebanon, ME, is approximately 75 minutes from Boston. Manchester, MA, is 40 minutes north of Beantown. It wasn’t a straight shot, however, since Cape Ann sticks out from the mainland. Still, even with the southern backtracking to access Route 95 from Ipswich, I arrived at base camp about an hour later. The leaflet described Skydive Lebanon as an airport, which would be like comparing an episode of Green Acres to Gone with the Wind. A large homestead and separate storage facility sat beside a single airstrip, nestled in the backwoods of Maine (The business has since grown to include a pro shop, café, overnight accommodations and nightlife). Fortunately, the runway was paved, though I don’t think a dirt track would’ve swayed me from my goal.

 This larger sign greeting thrill-seekers did not exist when I made my dive. Nice to see the smaller one survived. 

This was no high-falutin’ corporation, but rather a small business—I hesitate to use the word—started the same year of my escapade and run by like-minded lovers of skydiving who decided to turn their passion into a career. It reminded me of the male cliché of owning a bar, wherein after much imbibing, one of a group of buddies enthuses, “Hey, if we bought a bar we could hang out and drink together forever!” These guys were truly living the dream of doing what they loved. Much of the talk among the base campers was how many dives they’d already fit into the day and what that number did to their lifetime total. Perhaps it’s just my memory exaggerating the moment for effect, but I remember the tallies being in the thousands. “Enthusiasts” would have been woefully inaccurate to describe the Skydive Lebanon personnel. They fit a jump into their mornings before peeing.

 Though the official name may have changed, Skydive Lebanon in Maine flourishes. And why not? They’re consummate pros whose love for jumping ensures a high level of safety and fun. 

There were three of us scheduled to take the plunge, and as it was already late afternoon, the crew was anxious to get into the air while conditions were good. One member led us to the storage building, where we were outfitted with jumpsuits and parachutes. From the look of an area containing an easel fronted by dual desk/chairs, it appeared the squat structure doubled as a classroom. My suspicions were confirmed a moment later when our instructor decided to test us on skydiving procedures, which we learned at the course a few weeks earlier.

Huh?! What course? When? Where?!! My heart dropped as my senses reeled. Somewhere along this ride toward destiny, I’d missed a turn. I was so fixated on the brass ring, I forgot to get on the horse. And the evidence of my screw-up was clearly delineated in black ink on the shabby little handout: 10:00 AM 7/6. There were no other notes, but the time and date’s meaning suddenly clarified. That was the date of the skydiving class! All I noticed were the scribblings alongside the directions to base camp.

While my guts Ping-Ponged in my chest, outside I kept a cool veneer. Already that BFA in Performance was paying dividends! Now understand: I’d just discovered that my plans to hurl myself from an airplane at 10,000 feet necessitated my having taken a course, which would allow me to perform said plans successfully, i.e. without becoming a bloody stain on a remote field in Lebanon, Maine, and my only thought was fooling my instructors into thinking I’d passed the course and was ready to go.

What was I, a f***ing idiot?!! 

And no, I wasn’t high… yet!

It’s funny how age alters one’s perception of mortality. I gave no thought at the time about the ramifications of skydiving without knowing the basics. I just wanted to do it. Only in my calling forth these thirty-year-old memories, when the awareness of death is more prominent, seemingly hanging more precipitously over me like the sword of Damocles, have I realized what a young, naïve fool I was.

Fortunately, the Skydive Lebanon instructors were not so easily flimflammed. They may have presented themselves as the jumping equivalent to Moon Doggy and the other surfers in Gidget, but they were consummate professionals. After fumbling through a couple of questions, one of them asked me, “Didn’t you take the course?” I’d been caught with my hand in the cookie jar and could do nothing more than confess. My heart sank. Surely, I’d be sent home, my only hope was a quick rescheduling for taking the course and jumping at a later date.

But no! As if it’d been their mistake, the teachers seemed equally crushed that I’d somehow missed the course and thus be unable to experience the thrill with which they’d devoted their lives. They unilaterally decided there was enough time to verse me in Skydiving 101, so I could go on with the jump. Apparently, it wasn’t rocket science... or skiing for that matter.

The maiden skydiver had only two options when jumping, at least as far as Skydive Lebanon was concerned: “Tandem” or “Static Line.” With the former option, an instructor jumps with the parachuting preemie, literally harnessed to the individual. The advantages range from experiencing a longer fall before chute deployment to literally not needing to know a damn thing. Static line choosers jump alone, but the pull cord is attached to the aircraft, thus deploying the parachute once the newbie’s descent reaches the end of its tether. Those of the latter variety may not plummet as far, but their skydiving experience includes the thrill of going it alone without the relative comfort of a professional literally at your back; although there would be one in your ear!

 Along with the jumpsuit, each Static Line diver wore a helmet, which did more than protect the head. A receiver inside ensured that an instructor was with a jumper at all times, whether Tandem or Static Line. Each would be carefully monitored from the ground and talked to if the case warranted.

I’d signed up for the static-line option—I never did play well with others…

Although in both cases, the onus of popping the chute was not left entirely in the hands of a neophyte, other problems could occur. There were only a handful of these, however, the most pressing of which was the absolute failure of the parachute. Without an expert to lead the way, the static-line jumper needed to know how to respond to each. True, the ground crew could supply instruction and guidance via the helmet, but the individual still had to perform the necessary maneuvers themselves. And there was always the possibility of a malfunctioning headgear.

One other literally drop-dead failsafe was in place, if the primary parachute didn’t deploy and the emergency ripcord fizzled as well. There was also the possibility the jumper—realizing their canopy hadn’t opened—totally freaks to the point where they can do naught but flail about like a piece of Samsonite luggage in a gorilla cage or is so terrified they freeze or simply pass out. In any of these extreme cases, an automatic activator attached to the back-up chute would trigger. The device measures the air velocity at which the skydiver is plummeting. If a certain speed is attained, one indicative of a body plunging unimpeded for hundreds of feet, the gadget releases the emergency canopy.

[Count.] Look. Look. Pull. Pull. 

That was the mantra instilled in all potential divers before take-off. The count was eight one thousands, if I remember correctly, begun as soon as one’s body leaves the aircraft. After the eighth, the jumper looks up to gauge the success of the chute’s deployment—the initial “Look.” A series of simple drawings was used to exemplify the possibilities that might occur. Of these, a perfectly formed canopy was the ideal, but even the most expertly packed chute occasionally suffered twisting or entanglements when opening. Each of these had a sketch and method of troubleshooting. Encountering any of the aforementioned would negate continuation of the mantra. The skydiver would either enjoy the descent—a properly deployed parachute—or take the simple, necessary steps to amend the canopy and then fall as intended.

 “Spidey don’t need no stinkin’ fail-safe measures!” 

The second “Look” instructs the diver to direct his eyes to the emergency chute-deployment handle, which sits over the left breast, where one would put their right hand when making the Pledge of Allegiance. A diver would only pull the emergency cord if there were nothing but sky—depicted with a blank card—or a torn non-functioning parachute upon initial look. Then, the final order of the mantra—“pull”—would be followed. The echo is there to punctuate the directive, a slap in the face should the first be ignored.

Once the parachute was properly opened, the jumper was then instructed to reach up and pull down the toggles, which controlled the steering, found at the base of the chute. As a newbie to skydiving, I knew little of the advancement in the hobby’s technology. I’d initially been informed of the then relatively new rectangular chutes in the literature provided in the New School offering. Otherwise, I would’ve expected the traditional round ones most people associate with the sport.

Steering was easy. Want to turn right? Pull down on the right toggle. Left? Pull down on the left one. In this way, divers could stay clear of trees and power lines and direct themselves to the landing area indicated by a ginormous traffic-cone orange arrow on the field next to the airstrip. Employing both toggles created a leveling and slowing of one’s descent, a maneuver we were instructed to use when we got to within ten feet of the ground. This technique ensured a comfortable landing.

The Skydive Lebanon instructors flipped the cards before me in ever-increasing succession, as I deftly described the situations depicted on each and the best measures to take. I have no doubt that the staff would’ve prevented my jumping if my troubleshooting knowledge weren’t up to snuff or I showed the least bit of trepidation or hint of hysterics. They were also sure to explain that I was under no obligation to skydive that day, but could take the course and jump at a later date.

I wanted to dive and felt confident of my abilities to counter any problems should they occur. I didn’t even blink when they presented me with the release form to sign.

The plane was small, the only seat being that of the pilot. Even the instructor was on the floor. I’m not sure what I expected—perhaps something along the lines of the D-Day scenes in Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan without, of course, the enemy fire—but it certainly didn’t prepare me for the way the parachutists were stuffed into the aircraft’s cabin, like clown in a circus car.

Our positions were predicated on weight to ensure equal distribution. There wasn’t any chance of being coy about one’s heft either. Everyone was weighed before take-off. Thank goodness for that! I’d hate to be the victim of someone’s lying about their poundage because of their embarrassment at no longer being a Size 10. All three of us had chosen the Static Line option. I’m unsure how the staff would’ve configured us had there been a single Tandem Jumper, with the participating instructor, included in the arrangement.

 Best not to grab a bite at the Ripcord Café until after your jump 

As fate would have it, I was the first to get in, which meant I would be the last to go out. Squished on my knees with my head facing toward the tapered rear of the plane, I rued the big lunch I’d eaten hours earlier. Thankfully, a pair of small, round windows bookended the sides of my head. Otherwise, I might’ve gotten sick. Facing forward, the other two debutante divers sat at my back, the second jumper behind the pilot, numero uno facing the instructor who rode shotgun sans seat.

It didn’t take long for the plane to take off and reach the proper altitude. The instructor opened the door beside which he sat and signaled the first diver to take their place, which meant sitting with legs outside the vehicle, as if no more than hanging out on the stoop of a building. After a final check of the jumper’s chute and static line, the instructor gave the thumbs-up—the roar of the engines made shouting instructions useless. Through one of the portholes from the cramped rear of the plane, I watched the perfect deployment of the Number One’s chute. Like cans in a Coke dispenser, my fellow rookie and I shifted into the respective openings left by our colleagues.

 “You go right ahead; we’ll be right behind you!” 

The plane circled and soon I witnessed the second skydiver take flight, a properly formed canopy marking their smooth departure. I skootched into the hot spot. It was at this point, with my legs outside the aircraft, circling into position that I began to second-guess my decision. In my head, I tried to reassure myself. The odds of anything going awry during a dive were enormous and those of actually plunging to my death were astronomical. I knew this, but all I could think about was the fact that with the successful jumps of my two colleagues, the odds of something, anything, going wrong just went up!

I concentrated on checking my equipment, reacquainting myself with the emergency pull and ensuring my static line was secured, as if I could somehow delay my departure. Too soon, the instructor put up his thumb. I looked out the door at the greenery far below, turned back and shook my head. It wasn’t the height. Again, unless one has experience falling from a particular altitude, the brain can’t comprehend its meaning. But at that moment, I was face-to-face with mortality, and my survival instinct had finally been bitch-slapped awake. The instructor ignored my response and once again gave me the go-ahead, this time more intently with a shake of his thumb as if I’d somehow missed it the first time. I knew if I jumped I was dead UNLESS everything went according to plan. With that thought, I shut off my brain and let fly.

 “… eight, one-thousand… Look. Look. Pull. Pull.” 

I immediately went into the mantra: one, one-thousand; two, one-thousand… By four, I was yanked upward as my parachute deployed. Of course, my descent hadn’t suddenly changed direction, but rather considerably slowed. The mind and body, however, seemed to continue their descent for a moment creating the illusion of abruptly shooting upward. Still, I maintained my training and completed the count to eight, one-thousands, before checking the canopy above me. But I couldn’t access the steering toggles. My lines were twisted! Still, contrary to what the exclamation point might suggest at the end of the previous sentence, I was cool as a cucumber. Maybe too cool, as I finished the mantra—looking down at the emergency cord and uttering pull, pull, only without actually carrying out the action—before returning my attention to the tangled lines above my head.

 “To everything, churn, churn, churn...” 

Again, my training smoothly kicked into gear. I began churning my legs, as if I were peddling a bicycle. I looked the fool, but damn if it didn’t instantly result in my spinning out of the entanglement. The ground crew hadn’t chimed in, allowing me to handle the situation without assistance, most likely not wanting to disturb me during the preliminary countdown for fear of causing greater damage. Once twist-free, I activated the toggles, at which point I heard a voice in my ear. “Good job, number three. Enjoy yourself while we land number two. We’ll check back as you get closer to the ground.” With the assurance of the pros watching my back, I basked in the awesomeness of skydiving.

I floated, turned right, then left, flattened out to a seeming hover, even corkscrewed and all the while exulted in the experience. “THIS IS F***ING AMAZING!” I screamed several times with interstitial whoops for good measure. Never again would I look dubiously at a skydiver when they mention having made thousands of jumps. I can’t imagine another drug, which provides the same euphoria. If I were they, I’d be popping Ambien and sleep-diving, so as not to have to wait until morning for the first jump of the day.

True to their word, the ground crew piped in as I neared Mother Earth. I didn’t want the feeling to end, praying for a sudden updraft to lift me back into the sky. No such luck. As I approached the touchdown area and a better perception of my distance from the grass, I discovered that what I perceived as wafting slowly, gracefully, downward was in reality falling at a frightening pace. As the ground rushed up to greet me, I wondered what the Skydive Lebanon guys were waiting for in giving me the signal to employ the toggles for landing. Finally they gave the word and I pulled both down in unison. I leveled out mere feet from the soil.
  
 “THAT WAS F***ING AMAZING!” 

A moment later, I hit, stumbling forward a step onto my knees. The landing wasn’t hard at all, like stepping off a bus; it was the sudden reacquaintance with gravity, which caused the misstep—more of a surprise, really. I renewed my chorus—albeit understandably altered—of THAT WAS F***ING AMAZING!” My heart was thumping liking the drum machine in a disco tune, threatening to burst from my chest with every excited beat. The Skydive Lebanon personnel appeared in an instant. I was fine—there was no reason for them to think otherwise—but it was nice to see them so professional in the care they displayed for their charges. One held a video-recorder, which had been filming my entire jump from my plane departure to touchdown, including every excited epithet.

My one regret of the experience was hurrying off. I didn’t even see the video—something the crew and jumpers share at the end of each skydive session—never mind purchase it for posterity. Now that I’d successfully performed the greatest thrill of my life, I felt it prudent to get home to let my mom, at least, know I wouldn’t be returning to her through the mail slot. Hell, the company offered additional jumps at a special price, and I would love to have taken advantage, but I didn’t want to press my luck. And no, I didn’t have a cell phone with which to alert my mother of my survival—they didn’t exist.

 The incredible artwork for this Aliens poster is by my insanely talented friend, Den Beauvais 

As it happened, she hadn’t come home, yet, and I was still so hopped up on chemicals my endocrine system hadn’t released since I lost my virginity, I couldn’t stand still, never mind retire for the evening. I moved through the house like a caged animal, wondering what to do with myself. My salvation came in the form of a phone call. I leapt upon the device, answering it before the finality of the first ring. It was my friend Peter, who had just returned from seeing Aliens, which had opened that day. He was as similarly charged and itchin’ to tell someone about the movie, as I was to relate my skydiving experience.

Enthusing about the best of the quartet of Alien movies proved unfulfilling. He wasn’t yet ready to let it go, and suggested we go to the midnight screening. I was in the car and heading to pick him up before you could say…

 “Get away from her, you bitch!” 

 So much for letting my mom know I was okay.

It was just the diversion I needed. The movie was amazing, and although my awe of Aliens now mingled with the residual effects of the jump, the duality of both experiences seem to lessen the impact of each. A heightened equilibrium replaced the nigh-paralyzing thrill of the first. Not that I was ready for bed. A Grand-Slam Breakfast run at Denny’s was in order.

I didn’t get home until the early morning hours. The lights were off and Mom was asleep. I soon followed her lead, exhaustion finally overtaking me. Some time later, I discerned the faint glow of the bathroom light as my mom shuffled to the toilet. As the house returned to darkness I thought I heard her enter my room. Her hand making its way across the blankets along the baseboard confirmed my suspicions. When she got to my leg, she took but a moment to lightly squeeze it in reassurance. There was an audible sigh of relief before she stumbled back to her room.

Where was that bold adventurer of yore? I asked myself as I donned the red-and-blue for another gig, spun from the fertile marketing mind of Eric, the Canadian wunderkind, who’d engineered the successful custom Spider-Man comic promotion of the early 90s (see “Northern Exposure”). I’d been filled with the sort of dread that greets a high schooler when informed of a semester’s final exam schedule ever since Eric had chimed, “I have you bungee-jumping this afternoon at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE),” after my flight touched down in Toronto. Had I grown so old and cynical in the scant seven years since I foolishly rushed to leap from a plane?

 The Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto 

Dating back to 1879, the CNE comprises approximately 192 acres, situated along the shore of Lake Ontario directly west of downtown Toronto. The venue is home to more than a hundred annual events, trade and consumer shows (Think World’s Fair Pavilion). At the time of my visit, an Australian bungee-jumping outfit had rented space in the area. The extreme activity seemed just the sort of thing for Eric to continue the hype of his popular Spider-Man custom-comic program, which, in conjunction with The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and such high-powered sponsors as Proctor & Gamble, had already distributed millions of comics across the country. This particular event wouldn’t be tied to generating publicity for the release of the new book in the proposed ten-comic series, but rather maintaining the excitement of the promotion as a whole.

Spidey shows Canadian P&G president how he uses the company’s hair-care products 

I’d been Eric’s go-to Spidey since the campaign’s genesis and had already racked up thousands of miles across Canada in promoting it, including a whirlwind coast-to-coast press tour (see “Northern Exposure”) and an appearance at a Blue Jays game, where I threw out the ceremonial first pitch (see “How Can They Lay Off Pitches That Close”). It had gotten to the point where the master marketer simply called Marvel with nothing more than a date, and the gig was a go and I was the Man. No other Web-Slinger would do.

Eric’s request (read: demand) superseded any other job for which Marvel might’ve needed or wanted me. I’d missed out on joining a cadre of colleagues to appear at the New York Stock Exchange when Marvel Entertainment went public and another time taking part in a character falderal at Ron Perelman’s birthday party on the grounds of his palatial estate in Miami, because of conflicting events with Eric. But also I was working when other actors were not, traveled throughout Canada, got to do some amazing, crazy-ass shit and developed one of my dearest friendships gigging for him.

“You want me to what? From up there?!!”

So it wasn’t unusual for the Director of Personal Appearances, Alison, to be clueless about Eric’s intention to have Marvel’s most important property risking its life in Toronto. I don’t recall what made me more nervous: bungee jumping or doing so without clearing it with Alison/Marvel beforehand. I certainly didn’t want my tights confiscated for corporate misconduct. Plus, it gave me the perfect excuse to bow out of the stunt without culpability.

Alison was as ignorant as I about Eric’s intentions. But when it came down to rendering a verdict, she neither condoned nor condemned the act. “I expect you to do whatever you think is best for the character,” was her final ruling.

Isn’t that just f***ing great?!! Backing out would most assuredly look bad and prove fertile fodder for the merciless media. But were anything to go wrong… Brrr… I didn’t want to think about how that might damage the character, not to mention little ole me!

Eric was equally noncommittal, also foisting the onus of the decision onto my shoulders. Passive aggressive machinations were the last thing I needed. Understand Marvel’s concerns about the possible tragic consequences of the stunt and cancel it. Or rant and rave about how much work you’d put into the event; how the negative publicity from aborting would disgrace and do irreparable harm to the program. Just don’t give me your best Eeyore, despondently acceding to whatever my judgment may be!

I decided to do the deed; no spoiler warning required. This posting would be a colossal waste of time had I turned tail and swung back to the airport my webbing between my knees. The negative feedback of the press and resultant harm to the campaign combined with the damage to Eric’s reputation and my desire to do right by my buddy overrode the remote odds of my—Spider-Man—falling to my—his—doom.

 “Spider-Man? Yeah, that’s it. I'm Spider-Man... And my wife is Morgan Fairchild... uh, I mean, Mary-Jane Watson Parker...”

Now I was really nervous! I don’t think the fact that I was hurling myself from a metal cage, hoisted fifty feet in the air by a crane over a giant airbag situated underneath on the cement walkway of the exhibition grounds helped. The height was easy for my mind to fathom; this wouldn’t be like hurling myself from a plane 10,000 feet in the air. But as the stalwart idol of millions who’d saved the world once or thrice and battled the likes of Thanos and Dr. Doom, I wasn’t allowed to display my trepidation. I had to remain my flippant, irreverent, laugh-in-the-face-of-danger, Web-Slinging self. Which became increasingly more difficult the closer I got to launch.

 Worst match.com date… ever

I signed a release form, but can’t remember whether I put my real name, Peter Parker’s or Spider-Man’s. I would never reveal the former, so it had to be either of the latter; yet the crew proceeded with the jump nonetheless. At least my loved ones could sue the pants off the company once they identified the smear on the concrete. There was a slight delay when they had to adjust the bungee after weighing me in. The pros had double-guessed the answer I’d given, only to be proven wrong in their assessment of my honesty.

 “I have got to cut down on the flies!” 

The aforementioned flippant part was easy. I truly understood the character’s incessant nattering whilst facing danger. I was a blathering idiot, taking it out on the young woman manning the check-in table and the bungee boys securing the canvas leg manacles with which the elastic cord would be attached. I spewed pop culture references like a preemie on Epicac, paying homage to Cool Hand Luke and quoting Bob Euker.

Once the cage started its ascent, my breakdown worsened exponentially with every yard. I was fast approaching Martin Sheen’s Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. I actually broke character—I never break character!—alluding to my mom and revealing Spidey’s relationship with Mary-Jane, an egregious faux pas. Fortunately, the videographer worked for Eric and I’d be getting the only copy.

The bungee company had a mantra, too, only theirs was one keyed for take off not after. Nor do they give the client time to think once the cage is in place. At least I retained enough sense to realize I was an addled mess and thus review the procedure. It also helped me focus and diverted my attention just long enough from envisioning the fall to actually going through with it

 “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh…!” 

“Three… Two… One… Bungee…!” With that I was off. I planned the high-pitched scream beforehand. If he were to take part in such an inane stunt, Spider-Man would be as unfazed as a sea lion diving into the icy waters of the Arctic. Screaming? Hah! He’d be yawning! But I wanted to make it good for the crowd, so I took a deep breath and let out a blood-curdling, banshee yell as I propelled myself from the hanging metal deck. The wail also eased my jitters. It was my plan (PLANNING = COGNITIVE THINKING ≠ HYSTERIA = RESULT). And my admiring throngs loved it.

As for me, the experience was no way near that of skydiving. Yes, endorphins were released, but in comparison it was the difference between firing a bullet and throwing one. I’d parachute again in a heartbeat. Bungee jumping? Been there; done that…

A few weeks later, I was speaking with Eric and he revealed that the Australian bungee jumping outfit stole away one night without paying the business fees they owed the CNE. Looks like a job for Bungee-Ma— er, I mean, Spider-Man!

1 comment:

John Hildman said...

Geez! I was getting nervous for you just watching that...and I'm Batman!